Direct Action Everywhere – A Critique

DIRECT ACTION EVERYWHERE

With the expansion of vegan awareness in dominant culture also comes an expansion of activism tactics and strategies in order to keep the various issues at the forefront of dialogue. Some of these tactics or strategies have been seemingly organically born with the expanded idea of what veganism is and the reasons for adopting it as part of one’s lifestyle. Where in the past, the ethical treatment of animals drove most campaigns and strategies, the new focus on health has brought other promotional strategies into the mix, namely documentaries, athleticism, and foodie consulting. Unfortunately, even with the expanded quiver of activist arrows, some tactics and strategies that seemed more necessary and unavoidable in the old world – where vegan was still pronounced Vaygun, and food options were as limited as the activist groups with which to become a member – have either seen a recent resurgence or come back entirely anew. The group / movement Direct Action Everywhere, to me, embodies this old world strategy and with an increasing presence and inclusion of more activists, I feel it’s pertinent to offer a critique of their tactics.

Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) uses somewhat sensational and confrontational tactics to promote animal rights. They do this, in part, by either entering consumer businesses (Whole Foods, Chipotle, etc.) or dominating public spaces (Farmer’s Markets, events, etc.) and loudly delivering monologues with the intention to inform the public of animal rights and, it seems, disrupt business. These demonstrations are filmed, often ending with the activists getting thrown out of the business they enter or heckled by the public, and then posted on social media to be shared by their members and sympathizers. Using social media to promote these demonstrations aside, this tactic of disruption and informing the public is nothing new, and it’s telling that it isn’t more widespread or has held much longevity since the time period when it was more prominent.

IDENTITY CRISIS

In their respective categories, disruption and information are powerful tactics and strategies for animal rights organizations, but it takes a certain measured, intentional intermingling of the two in order to maximize their effect, which I think is DxE’s greatest failing. DxE doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to do with it’s demonstrations and ultimately fails in both regards.

The strategy of disrupting a business is about posing a continuous, profit damaging nuisance, in effect ruining “business as usual”. Disruption is about influencing a business to change it’s practices of using and/or harming animals by making their standard practices difficult to carry out and/or ruining their profit. The ways to disrupt a business directly are many, from true direct action such as property damage and concerted civil disobedience (halting consumer practices and tarnishing a reputation) to complicating a functional supply line such as the Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty campaign did. DxE does none of this. The demonstrations they carry out tend to be very short in duration, allow consumers to continue shopping, rarely end in arrest (which is probably for the better), do not alter supportive supply lines, have shown no effect on profits, and only cause temporary confusion and annoyance during the act. If a strategy of DxE is to disrupt business as usual, they need to seriously reassess how they intend to do so and measure the act, because for now their disruption (if that is a stated goal) is entirely ineffective.

The other foundation for a DxE demonstration is informative, but here they also tend to fail, not only in what they say, but to whom they say it. A DxE demonstration is marked by basic sign holding (“It’s not food. It’s violence.”) and at least one individual stepping forward to yell out a monologue that talks about the sentience of the animals their audiences tend to be eating or buying at the time. They conduct these yelling monologues in fast food restaurants such as Chipotle or grocery stores such as Whole Foods. The first obvious problem with these monologues is their dramatic nature, in that they are loudly proclaimed, indoors, while people are quietly going about their business or having discussions amongst each other. There is very little respect given during these speeches as the audience is interrupted, dominated in volume, and immediately put on the defensive. It is a jarring tactic that, although garners attention, does not garner RECEPTIVE attention. It is threatening, admonishing, and disrespectful to the public, if not in literal verbiage, then in delivery. To repeat a parental tale, It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. DxE does not deliver their message in a way that does any favors for the animals.

For what it’s worth, as a committed vegan who shops in these grocery stores and eats at these restaurants, if I encountered a DxE demonstration, I’d probably be one of the first to help throw them out, in part because I would be offended at their social domination, but also because it would be an act of aiding the animals by keeping DxE activists from turning off the non-vegan public from being receptive to animal rights. I know I’m not the only one. It’s sad when one gets the same feeling from animal rights activists as they do from street corner preachers.

It would be one thing if a group of DxE members entered the boardroom of an animal abusing corporation and let loose, whether in an attempt to disrupt or admonish the employees, but instead they choose to carry out their tactics in the public realm, and in that they are completely missing the mark of their pleading and frustrated emotional expressions. If you’ve ever seen a DxE video, it is clear they are failing in delivering a message to the public about animal rights if judged only by the reactions of the public themselves. If they aren’t being heckled by the public, then they are yelled at, forced out, stared at with confusion or just ignored. Often, these negative responses are used to claim some manner of martyrdom via social media comments, serving to reinforce various degrees of self-righteous chest thumping for being on the correct side of morality, but do very little to actually persuade anyone not to eat or buy animals.

On the other hand, if the intent of DxE is to inform the business with whom they have a problem about animal rights, they again are making a tactical mistake. Nothing about their public monologues is persuasive or even verbally disruptive to the businesses. The language they use is moral, not financial, and morality doesn’t drive business practices.

Another hallmark of DxE’s verbal demonstrations is the sensational nature of their speeches, sometimes marked by crying and/or intense emotive experiences. I know I may be treading on thin ice here, but I distrust the integrity of these expressions. It’s not that I don’t believe the DxE activists are frustrated, saddened, or angry regarding the treatment of animals, but these specific expressions IN THE MOMENT come across as forced, disingenuous, opportunistic, and even fake. They don’t seem fake, because the individual has never felt them, but rather because the environmental circumstances don’t often foster these emotions. I can’t tell if crying or deep emotive expressions are meant to play on the sympathies of the audience or to proclaim a more egotistical commitment to the issue, but whatever the reason, it is hard to see these contextually unnatural expressions as either persuasive or genuine. I am of the category that believes respect for ones audience and the value of a perspective is given through facts and delivered with reservation and calm, not by offering emotional desperation and sensational pleas.

If the goal of a verbal demonstration is to persuade others to your viewpoint or give them lasting food for thought, a certain connection needs to be made with this audience of strangers. The playing field of this connection needs to take into account ones sense of space and protectiveness, which DxE often fails to do. While other organizations utilize neutral territory to offer information in a take it or leave it manner (or even offer incentive to take the information about animal rights), DxE enters the space of others to deliver their message. This is akin to the feeling you get when missionaries come knocking on the door of your house to spread their word. You did not ask them to your house nor did you purchase the house with the expectation that you would need to talk to them. The lines are a little more blurred in public spaces, of course, but there are concrete similarities. Imagine a priest giving the sermon at church when an individual stands up in the pew and tries to sell you membership to a fitness pyramid scheme by yelling over the priest. Would you be receptive to their offer, no matter how beneficial it may be to you? Imagine yourself, maybe with 20 other people, watching a band playing music in a public park, only to have an individual sit down, tell you how great this other band is, and turn on a radio so you can hear it. Would you be receptive to hearing this other band, or would you rather listen at another time, when you might be more receptive? I know, the examples are a little ridiculous, but so is sitting down to eat (yes, even eating animals that shouldn’t be eaten) with a friend and having someone stand up and yell over your conversation. These relatively public spaces, such as a restaurant, a grocery store, or a farmer’s market, come with certain expectations of behavior for yourself and others. Not to draw prudish lines on public “appropriateness”, but from a tactical standpoint, it’s not helpful to break through one’s sense of personal space and comfort, create an air of tension and defensiveness, and then tell them about how they should be living their lives.

If taking a position of informing the public about animal issues is the primary intent of DxE, there are practiced, tested, measured, and effective ways of doing so (which I will detail later). These ways entail meeting people on their terms or in relatively neutral space, without being domineering, without the need of spectacle, without forced emotive expressions, without sensationalism, and by creating a cooperative dialogue instead of a confrontational exchange or delivery. This manner of scolding and talking down to an audience we need on the side of the animals is more harmful than helpful. Effective communication for the animals is simply constructive dialogue 101.

DEFINITIONS

It may seem nit-picky, but I find difficulty overlooking the very name “Direct Action Everywhere”, as it implies a form of activism that DxE doesn’t represent. My understanding of the parameters of “direct action” involve a break from symbolic gestures and engage businesses in a way that affect them directly and immediately. Direct action involves property destruction, removing animals from their cages, civil disobedience carried to its fullest extent, and a number of other actions removed from “raising awareness”, engaging in free speech, general forms of lawful protest, negotiations and similar low-risk tactics. Direct Action always implies a step up from traditional activism, a greater degree of engagement, and sometimes tactics carried out underground and anonymously. There are grey areas in these parameters and DxE can claim to be disrupting businesses, however temporarily, with some of their very short term occupations while they give speeches inside restaurants or perform die-in’s, but I fail to see how these tactics are turning up the heat or expanding on past usage of the same.

The crisis both animals and humans find themselves in at this point in history demands thoughtful consideration of strategy, continuous, persuasive pressure, and drawing more specific lines between what works and what doesn’t towards our objectives. As a movement, we’ve lost the privilege of offering activists every play in the book, and instead need to ensure we are going all in towards measured success. When we blur the lines of “direct action” we risk convincing activists they are having an assured effect upon business practices instead of offering them more concrete ways to bring about either small victories or total liberation. In critical, desperate circumstances, the pull to appease our conscience and act by the directive of emotion and not solution-based practices is understandable, but to draw activists towards the illusion of having a direct effect on the industries and corporations that exploit animals is irresponsible.

A theatrical die-in or emotive demonstration may feel direct, but as far as definitions and victories go, they remain in the category of mediated, symbolic, lawful protest and shouldn’t be used to convince activists they are making progress in the moment. I’m not stating a case for giving up on these strategies if they are what some activists feel is within their means and motives, but let’s call a spade a spade and not imagine we are directly affecting business as usual when we aren’t.

EXPLOITIVE

If there have been any tactics by DxE that make me realize the organizers are really not thinking things through, it’s the intentional use of animals during demonstrations to state their case. Recently, organizers have suggested activists bring their pets (primarily dogs) to public speeches that involve near yelling or the use of a bullhorn to deliver their monologues. These environments often involve public crowds and somewhat chaotic circumstances. The idea is that having pets at these speeches, that are meant to draw a connection between the emotional lives of animals and the emotional lives of factory farmed animals, will convince pet owners to extend compassion towards animals raised for food. The intention is understandable, but involving animals to this end has it’s problems.

Symbolically, there is something incredibly wrong with using animals for almost any objective, and I personally find discomfort creating relationships with non-human animals outside any reason other than protection, liberation, or contextual companionship. All acknowledgement that these animals are not behind harmed, the very idea that directly using animals towards a political objective speaks to exploitation and a reinforcement of the idea that animals can be used for our human-centric means without reservation.

The protest or demonstration is not an environment for non-human animals (it’s not even a place for some human animals), and I’m surprised these animal rights activists would feel comfortable bringing their pets into a context that involves populated spaced, loud noises, potentially confrontational circumstances, and situations that aren’t created for their emotional comfort. The message being delivered through the megaphone is one expression, but the sub context is that it’s ok to use animals for an objective outside their individuality and basic existence. The involvement of animals during demonstrations, to reinforce an easily understandable argument, is not the same as when sanctuaries allow visitors to engage with animals and reference them for talking points. Those environments are created as a physically and emotionally supportive situation for the animals, which is a far cry from bringing animals to a public space to be subjected to all the unknown variables and unique stressors that are part of a demonstration.

If bringing animals into a public space and using them to highlight a point isn’t enough, some DxE demonstrations have even involved putting animals in cages along with their human companions, to again, highlight this point that animals shouldn’t be put in cages. Establishing a relationship with a non-human animal involves some compromises for the safety and comfort of all, such as “crating” an animal at home when the owner is away, but to put an animal inside a cage (even ensuring their comfort by including a human companion with them), speaks to a usage towards human objectives and not animal safety. We don’t need to split hairs about the perceived comfort and discomfort of animals in these demonstrations, but to merely state that the plight of animals can be easily and concretely stated (as it has been for so long) without the involvement of animals. I don’t for a second believe we’ll move our societal values closer to animal liberation just because we started bringing animals to protests.

Ultimately, these individual uses of animals during demonstrations doesn’t matter so much as the idea that animals are not ours to use, as the phrase is often repeated. Even with the stated intent to remove animals from exploitation, essentially using them towards their own benefit, the act of bringing non-human animals to protests objectifies their individuality, continues the idea that human intention trumps animal welfare, and that there are blurred boundaries when it comes to where we include animals in our lives and where we leave them alone. If our intent is to allow animals to exist in their natural niche, without unnecessary human intervention, outside the confines of industrial civilization, then we should seek to do so at every opportunity without reservation. The consideration to use animals for any intent different than their basic safety and well-being should never be debated. The slope is already slippery enough. If we decide it’s permissible to use animals for demonstrations, then do we admit it’s ok to use their honey if we are “keeping them sustained”, do we admit it’s ok to hunt them to avoid unnecessary starvation, do we admit to so many other grey areas of animal interest? The easiest answer is to always leave the animals out of it, and demonstrations are a part of this answer.

“Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, objectify for political means, or abuse in any way.” If DxE wants to live their ideals and take a symbolic stand against objectification, they need to draw a firm line in tactics that remove animals from the equation and exhibit a genuine respect for the physical and emotional lives of non-human animals.

VALUE

Rest assured, my intent isn’t to rip DxE apart and hope they disappear from the movement of animal liberation. I think there are too many people that point out the “flaws” with various organizations and approaches without recognizing that there might be some valuable or salvageable aspects to a perspective, and I tried to do the same with this critique. DxE has value in the movement and they have found ways to engage a number of activists, as evidenced by their demonstration numbers, and continue pushing the discussion of animal liberation among both it’s members and the wider public. My critique of DxE is actually driven by their popularity, because they are the ones making waves right now, and it’s not that I want them to stop the discussion, but rather would like to see a refinement of tactics that make them even more effective. My initial discomfort with DxE was watching them reuse and recreate tactics that were left behind from the old world of PETA strategies, which many animal liberation activists disrespect and watched do more harm than good. Animal liberation has made huge progression as a cultural force, establishing a social context that has called for new activism and new tactics, and it makes me cringe to see an organization with such influence keep animal liberation activism mired in the same stereotypes of yesteryear, unable to effectively build on past mistakes and new successes. DxE has, however, offered value to the discussion of animal liberation in both dominant culture and activist circles, and I want to acknowledge those accomplishments.

DxE has, more than anything else, kept the conversation alive. Where PETA has increasingly worn on the general public and become tired and predictable, DxE has tried to expand the conversation with controversial, progressive stances (focusing on “allied” businesses) and utilizes “honest” emotional expressions to convey the seriousness of animal liberation.

EMOTIONAL DEPTH

The plight of animals is so incredibly tragic that the most basic understanding of animals confined in industrial agriculture warrants an intense emotional reaction. To merely read a book, watch a video, or see a factory farm with your own eyes illicits a sadness and anger that is rarely paralleled, and it is the emotional depth of the experience that drives individuals towards animal liberation activism. One can not be faulted for using this emotional motivation to engage in activism, press for radical changes, and convey this emotional context to others. DxE uses this premise for their demonstrations, and as much as I hate to admit, at the expense of their objectives. It is one thing to witness animal exploitation and feel the weight of injustice in the moment, but it’s another to try and recreate that same emotional depth out of context. It, unfortunately, comes across disingenuous, disconnected, and dishonest. To cite a famous incident, the DxE activist that started in on a monologue about her “little girl”, yelling and crying (were they crocodile tears for the sake of persuasion?) in public, brought much understood derision and mockery of her display. As much as I understand her intent, I can’t help but shake my head with all the other naysayers saying, “Come on…really?”. These expressions of emotional depth paint the picture of animal liberation activists as fragile, disconnected, excessively bleeding heart crybabies who break at the mere sight of a McDonald’s advertisement. If one can’t keep themselves composed when entering a Chipotle, how do they ever leave the house and why should their perspectives be trusted among the normative and emotionally measured public?

And yet, these intense emotional experiences are what draw the activists in. I understand that DxE wants to use this intense emotional experience to their ends, to try and convey the same importance of the issue to the public, but it doesn’t work that way. I dare say current activists weren’t brought to the issue by the theatrical, forced emotional expressions, created completely out of context. I firmly believe DxE would connect with the general public by communicating to them in a different manner and a different context, which I’ll reference later. I do appreciate that DxE isn’t so cold, statistic and calculated with their strategy of “recruitment” or persuasion, but I think the way in which they do so could be revised towards authenticity and honesty. DxE needs to stop forcing emotional expressions and create the context for them to happen safely, individually, and genuinely.

THE PROGRESSIVES BUZZKILL

If there is an undeniable value to DxE, it is their expanding of the exploitation conversation with back patting progressives. DxE campaigns broke from the norm by critiquing and confronting the “allied” businesses such as Whole Foods, Chipotle and similar companies that try to cater to vegans, foodies and other conscious consumers with statements of care and humanity towards animals. The idea that you can raise and kill animals in a way that is towards their benefit is a joke, and really just a marketing campaign, but most vegans, foodies and conscious consumers continued patronizing these types of businesses under the banner of veiled self-appeasement. DxE rightfully called out these businesses for their deceptive marketing and confronted them for trying to pull the (literal?) wool over consumers’ eyes, even at the risk of making many vegans and activists uncomfortable and coming to the defense of these institutions. As an anti-capitalist (and forcedly, reluctant consumer) I firmly stand with DxE for bringing attention to these supposedly friendly businesses and campaigns, if not because they call out the obviously exploitive marketing at the expense of animal lives, but because they indirectly expose the foundational, immoral profit motives of capitalist enterprise. If DxE actively incorporates an expansive anti-capitalist critique to their campaigns against Whole Foods and Chipotle, and not problematically asks these businesses to simply become vegan capitalists, then we’d REALLY be getting somewhere. For the time being, however, this asking of activists to be less friendly with businesses who pose as allies to our conscious consumerism is a step in the right direction towards both animal liberation and new progressions of critique.

For all the problems I have with DxE entering social space and disrupting the calm, they do engage with some businesses and campaigns by more traditional means and communicate with the public on more constructive terms. They should be applauded for this approach, even if the tactics aren’t groundbreaking, they are at least doing more good than harm in the long run, no matter how incrementally. The campaign against UC labs as one example, involved continuously exposing the horrific treatment of animals at UC labs and through vivisection in general. The actions were less about changing consumer habits (there are no consumers to speak of with this issue) and more about keeping the public eye and public critique on UC labs, so any media attention the demonstrations received would most likely be valuable. Sensationalism in this context seems appropriate (though my previous critique of bringing animals to the demonstration stands). Other tactics against Chipotle and similar businesses in the “It’s not food. It’s violence” campaign involved neutral space demonstrations that offered a presentation of the issue while allowing for constructive communication with the audience. Aside from berating consumers in the non-nuetral space within the businesses, having no discernible effect upon profit making through false civil disobedience, and the forced emotional expressions out of context, these demonstrations are important in connecting to sympathetic individuals, continuing the conversation about animal exploitation, and meeting an audience on their terms to engage in constructive communication about the issues.

When the issues around animal exploitation are so immediate, desperate, critical, and difficult, it feels precarious to critique organizations and movements that have rallied so many people to their campaigns, but for the same reasons, it’s also imperative that we take a deep, measured look at these campaigns and tactics to make sure they are maximizing the value they can have towards animal liberation. We shouldn’t unreservedly support specific strategies and organizations just because they have recruited a considerable number of activists to their campaigns, but rather make sure there aren’t other organizations or strategies or ways to best utilize these activists and all their good intentions. A million activists standing on the street corner “naked rather than wearing fur” or openly weeping during someones dinner or yelling over conversations at the farmers market could be better served flyering college campuses, educating the public about animal exploitation in so many other ways, hosting potlucks, filming factory farms, locking down in vivisection labs, conducting open liberations, conducting closed liberations, forming athletic teams centered on education, conducting fundraising campaigns for sanctuaries and animal experimentation alternatives, and so on. Numbers are only part of the equation. Effectiveness is the other component.

ALTERNATIVES

There is a misconception that calling for the elimination of an organization (which I’m not doing) means a lack of action, when in reality it means a void is created that can be filled by alternatives. The void is a place where the activists that were engaged with the previous organization can now work to serve another. The void is a place where the resources that were funneled can now be diverted to other more effective organizations and campaigns. If PETA were to collapse and disappear tomorrow, the activists, the employees, and the concerns for and exploitation of animals would still remain. The change would be up to the activists and other organizations to fill that void. Most likely, the smaller organizations fighting for dollars and volunteers, with potentially more effective campaigns, would grow in stature. Maybe animals would be better served by the 10 Billion Project or The Humane League or Compassion Over Killing existing at the size of PETA. Or maybe animal liberation would expand if we had smaller organizations, but more of them. That is a consideration for another time, however. Right now, our concern is maximum effectiveness with the organizations that currently exist. Although DxE has it’s values, I think they could better benefit animal liberation by dropping some approaches and focusing on others.

Civil Disobedience, with the numbers to back it up, has long stood as an effective form of persuasion regarding incremental changes in business practice by effecting the bottom line. DxE tends to give lip service to civil disobedience by interrupting business as usual when they enter restaurants and grocery stores during vocal demonstrations, but they fall short of effectiveness, when they leave without fanfare and allow business to continue on uninterrupted. It would take a concerted campaign of civil disobedience, of getting arrested, of locking down, of continuously halting the machinations of business in order to persuade business leaders to either make changes or incite others to action. Anything short of a full on civil disobedience campaign is just a minor annoyance and blip on the media screen. If DxE isn’t interested in civil disobedience, they would be better served by conducting their demonstrations in neutral public space, filming the proceedings as they do, and sharing them on social media as they utilized. I fail to see the value in adding a momentarily disruptive, confrontational, and potentially arrest worthy component to these tactics.

I’ve continuously reiterated the importance of constructive communication with a non-vegan audience and I feel this is one consideration DxE has not employed. Having your say and making a display of your emotions may be appeasing and self-satisfying, but that doesn’t mean you’ve done much to reach your intended audience. The way DxE communicates their message comes across more self-serving than intentional and, dare I say, compassionate. It doesn’t consider the desires and receptiveness of their audience, which should be the primary concern for education. Being heard doesn’t mean being received, or even being understood, but fortunately there are a number of other groups having great impact through their education strategies.

The 10 Billion Lives Tour is an organization that uses a “pay-per-view” strategy, offering $1 to the general public to watch a short video on animals used as food. The organization takes trucks to colleges, music festivals and street fairs to meet the public on their terms as an education strategy. They measure the number of viewers and their commitments to transitioning to a vegan diet, with great success. While watching the films, the emotional reactions by the viewers are the genuine responses DxE attempts to theatrically express during their demonstrations, but with a positive, lasting, constructive outcome. They manage to create this positive outcome by not mixing a contempt for business practice with the eating habits of it’s consumers and instead focusing only on educating the public about animal exploitation in food production. They educate the public not by delivering perspectives on them unavoidably, instigating defensiveness in the process, but by giving incentive for the viewer to come to them, willingly, on their terms. The viewer is then accepting permission to receive the information, by their own admission, and not because they had no other option. This allows also the viewer to process the information about animal treatment in their own way, not being told how they should feel, or how they should live their life. We could continue to break down the value of constructive communication in this way, but the point is clear, that if the intent with a demonstration or campaign is to educate the public about animal exploitation issues, then utilizing basic, easily understood forms of constructive communication is the best approach. Leave sensationalism, guilt, admonishment, disruptiveness, and annoyance to the priests and street preachers.

The Humane League (and many other organizations) also do a great job offering information to the public about animal exploitation through simple leafletting. No, it’s not glamorous or enticing to the media or martyr generating, but none of those dynamics should be desirable when it comes to animal rights activism. The primary concern should be getting information to the public so they can make informed, compassionate decisions about their food choices, and the millions of booklets The Humane League have distributed to college students has been doing just that. I can’t think of any animal activists I know that didn’t get introduced to the issues surrounding animal exploitation without various forms of literature and DxE could make great strides in their image and effectiveness by expanding an educational campaign by meeting them with compassion and respect instead of confrontation and frustration.

SUMMARY

When I step back and take in the message DxE promotes, it’s hard to cut through all the sensationalism and media attention tactics to find the effectiveness in it all. Primarily, I get the sense they are social media savvy, populated with the types of activists influenced too much by their insecurities and emotional intensity than they are by calculated effectiveness, and maybe focused too much on proving their commitment to animal rights than being a true force of change. This is a judgement call, I will openly admit, but being “around the block”, so to speak, the patterns and expressions of DxE activists are nothing new and continue to follow a trajectory that categorizes vegans into unflattering stereotypes. This would all be forgivable if they were making great strides in normalizing animal liberation, having a measurable effect on business practices or offering a progressive perspective to move forwards through activism. Unfortunately, I don’t see it. What I often see are videos pasted all over Facebook of activists throwing themselves into confrontational situations then back patting themselves as martyrs amongst each other. I see annoying episodes of forced crying and inappropriately contextual emotional outcries. I see tactics once left behind from the days of PETA and repainted as important and effective.

Even more, I don’t see businesses closing or even not expanding. I don’t see exclamations of all the new people brought to veganism. I don’t see constructive media discussions or intelligent debate. I don’t see “intersectionality” (or whatever the cool kids call it now) or expanded social critique. If it is happening…I don’t see it.

If my opinion matters, what I would LIKE to see is DxE separate their campaign tactics instead of muddying the conflicting dynamics of education and confrontation. I would like to see them engage in truly disruptive (sustainable, long term, measurable) tactics that change business strategies or prove to be a massive nuisance to the normal operations of exploiting animals. I would like to see them institute their own public education campaigns, but in a way that is compassionate and respectful to their audience while carried out in relatively neutral space. I would like to see them abandon sensationalized, self-serving demonstrations that are more confrontational with the public audience and reserve confrontation for the businesses with no other incentive to change. I would like to see them expand their critique of exploitation to include economic systems and not remain so entrenched in a single issue approach.

With all the issues I have with DxE, I’m not calling for a dismantling of the organization so much as a reworking of tactics and strategies. They have considerable influence at this point and a number of activists in their fold, but I do believe they have a solid framework to maximize their effectiveness. I just think it’s going to take some honest, self-critique of their objectives and current trajectory towards those desires. As someone who unthinkingly engaged in activism, with great immaturity and embarrassment at times, I understand the mentality that compels individuals and organizations to JUST DO SOMETHING, but I think we have enough practice, success and failure to really refine our approaches for the animals.

I welcome equal critique and discussion about the points I raised.

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One response to “Direct Action Everywhere – A Critique

  1. Wow.

    All I can say is the hardline vegan stereotype is what kept me from going vegan for so long. Its all I knew ,and in all honesty, it was frightening. I knew I would never be “that guy” who would/could become an “activist”, nor did I want to. I honestly believed that’s how you had to be since that’s all I ever saw. I know, bad on my part. Seeing people I knew and respected (who didn’t force their lifestyle choices on me) is what helped transition into veganism.

    I choose to live my life by my own ideals and standards, doing what I feel comfortable doing. A “silent activist” maybe (activist in that my actions speak for me)? I don’t know, but I do know that in my short 5 years of veganism many people have come to me with questions and advice and a few have also adopted a vegan lifestyle. To me, that’s liberating enough and raising awareness.

    Im not about to stand outside of a Whole Foods because they sell rabbit, that’s just not me. In instances like that, I say contact Whole Foods CEO, don’t disrupt their business and their shoppers. I also happen to love Whole Foods for all the vegan products they do carry (and lets be honest, there arent many all vegan super markets around). As you stated, It gives US a bad name and promotes that negative stereotype. I may partake in a walk promoting animal rights, a sanctuary or run on a vegan running team, but I would never disrupt a place of business weather or not I agree with them.

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